We’re thrilled to share “a work of art” by aureleo sans as this week’s New Voices entry. In “a work of art,” a story told in the second person, the protagonist grapples with their sexuality and what masculinity means in their mostly Latinx high school. The voice of sans’s protagonist is heartfelt and honest, and vulnerable in the most surprising ways.
You wish you liked the girls at school, but they are always opening their mouths at the end of every sentence like Kermit the Frog when he cracks a joke and Sharpieing their eyebrows and using caca brown lipliner on their Red Delicious Apple lips and whispering and giggling like idiots. But you want Salvation, not Salvation Army.
Mami crossed oceans to avoid getting drowned, but you can’t escape water like you can’t escape fate. You attended the school of her hard knocks: the fairy tales she lullabied at bedtime about gangs and death squads and narcotraficantes marauding the countryside and her childhood. Her family dined on the tough meat from the horses that didn’t make it to the glue factory. Her sister killed herself after giving birth to an illegitimate son and the family gifted Mami the boy to raise but he was never hers, not like you. Her father assassinated. She shipped herself to the U.S. no return address. None of the relatives ever reach this shore to reach you. She spends a life scrubbing toilets and replacing jizz-stained sheets at the Hampton Inn and the Homewood Suites and the Howard Johnson. She raises two sons of her own, you and Nick. You remember when she beamed. Before Nick’s first stint locked up, before Dad knocked out one of her teeth so now when you see her you see a jack-o’-lantern, before y’all Greyhounded to Philadelphia to see him, and she fought one of his side chicks with your Louisville Slugger, and he still wouldn’t come back to her or to Nick or to you.
Now she spends her time saving what’s left. You see her researching gang tattoo databases. She decodes the hieroglyphics emerging on Nick’s face like fire ants. He protests when she walks by his open door, when she side-eyes the portable scale and the glassine bags. She worries he is lost at sea, but you are her baby boy. You’d spend hours at the library. You’d be by her side like Velcro until she had to leave for work. You’d refuse to sleep alone or even worse, next to Nick. You’d demand cuentos every night until last month when you lied and said you didn’t want to hear her anymore. Now you’ve stopped looking at her in the eyes and you drag your feet around like sandbags. You know she knows something’s wrong. She’s going to lose her sons like she lost her husbands but you try to ignore this because between the drugs and school and the jerking off and your sadness it’s too much, and she still cooks and mops and sweeps and laundries, which is what matters. You’ve caught her a couple of times holding a cup to the wall to her ear, and you know she is spying on your phone conversations and strategizing how to control you and your brother but you don’t care because you are grown.